So if we’re going to be talking about getting rid of rodents, we should probably know what a rodent is. Typically it’s the tooth structure and the prerequisite of being a mammal that make a rodent a rodent. Because of their unique tooth and jaw structure, as well as the growth rate of their teeth, rodents are considered “gnawers” of wood and other fibrous materials. Beavers are the more voracious gnawers of wood, but are rarely considered pestiferous. Gnawed trees and shrubs are often attributed to rabbits. People often mistake rabbits as a member of the rodent order of mammals. In fact, they’re not; rabbits are lagomorphs. I certainly didn’t know rabbits were some kind of alien hybrid set loose to ensure that our legume population couldn’t get out of control.
If you’re wondering how to get rid of mice, rats, gophers, groundhogs, squirrels, or chipmunks, then you’ve found the right article. We’re going to give you the most direct and effective ways to get rid of rodents with links to separate articles that go into more detail about that particular rodent. A list of these rodent articles can be found in the sidebar to the left while some natural and humane rodent control strategies are found to the right. We will also talk a little bit about traps and trapping, but for now, let’s review the most common types of rodent pests.
Why control rodents?
Reasons to get rid of mice and rats are numerous. Not only to mice and rats carry worms and other diseases that can be passed to cats and dogs when they’re eaten, but the fleas that mice and rats are often host to may carry blood-borne pathogens, even tapeworm. There is further evidence showing that domestic rodent pests are responsible for bringing the black-legged tick (otherwise known as the deer tick, the tick most often identified as the carrier of Lyme Disease) and other blood-feeding species of insects and arachnids.
The reasons for getting rid of gophers, groundhogs, and other rodents are usually associated with the damage these pests can do to lawns and gardens, while the damage done by squirrels and chipmunks are usually associated with their nest building activities. Aside from the physical and aesthetic damages that might be done by rodent pests like the gopher and the squirrel, these rodent species do not pose much of a threat to the health of humans or their pets.
Most Common Rodent Pests
If you want to control mice or rats, perhaps the most effective form of pest control is the mouse trap or the rat trap. Some people will tell you it’s more humane (and it is) to use live traps, simply releasing the animals outside or relocating them a ways from your house. And that’s great if you have one or two field mice. Roof rats and house mice have become too accustomed to domestic life, so they will find their way back into your home. Not only that, but rats and house mice are often of such large populations that the reusability of lethal mouse traps and rat traps becomes more economical and far more efficient.
If you want to control gophers, you’re looking at two possibilities: poison or gopher traps. Control of pocket gophers (what some people would call a “true gopher”) is most effective when employing either a trap set in the main runway of the gophers tunnel system, or by injecting strychnine-laced barley into the tunnel system. Trapping gophers provides the added security that you are not going to kill another animal in the process because the traps are set inside of the gopher mounds. Poisoning gophers with strychnine relieves you of the tedium that is cleaning, setting, and checking traps, but if a poisoned gopher wanders above ground before he/she dies, a predator may end up eating that gopher and dying from the poison as well.
Groundhogs are usually dealt with using fumigant gas cartridges that are injected into the burrow, releasing carbon monoxide or some other gas that kills the groundhog. People often mistake groundhogs for gophers; the difference between a groundhog burrow and a gopher burrow is that groundhogs burrows usually have an entrance radius of 10″ or greater, while the entrance to a gopher burrow is considerably smaller (3″-4″)—and gopher mounds a generally more numerous. These fumigants (usually either carbon monoxide or aluminum sulphide) can be used for both gophers and groundhogs. Just be certain to seal the mound system with moist soil and don’t use them under your home.
The focus on squirrel control leans a bit more towards the preventative rather than their direct physical destruction. Poisoning squirrels and similar rodents is a no-no because they have too many predators that you will end up killing secondarily. Most squirrel control efforts have focused on designing squirrels out of the system. That is, put your attention on sanitation and property maintenance. Don’t leave pet food unattended. Don’t leave bird seed unattended. Any source of food like nuts and other protein rich substances will attract more squirrels. Removing easily foraged food sources from the environment will make sure squirrels don’t hang around too long.
To get rid of chipmunks you’re going to come back to trapping. Sure, it seems like getting rid of chipmunks would be a lot like getting rid of squirrels, but the most effective forms of chipmunk control are with rat traps or mesh-wire live traps. Whichever kind of trap you use to control your chipmunk population depends upon the size of the chipmunk population. If you’re dealing with a lot of chipmunks that are burrowing under your home or chewing up your house, you may want to go for the rat trap immediately. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, and dried fruits are all good baits for chipmunks. If you’re worried you might catch something other than a chipmunk, try using live mesh-wire traps instead, using the same kinds of bait.
Tips for Trapping Rodents
You will want to clean your traps before using them, and handle those clean traps with latex rubber gloves or any other glove that will not accumulate oils from our sweat. Rodents, especially gophers and groundhogs, have very keen senses of smell, and a quite wary of objects and areas where the smell of humans and/or other animals is strong. Latex rubber gloves are good for this purpose because they can simply be thrown away when you’re done with them.
Placement of rodent traps is key, as you may already know. Putting a gopher trap in the middle of your yard is going to accomplish nothing because gophers spend almost 100% of their time below ground in their tunnel systems eating roots and other vegetation. It’s important to understand the biology and behavior of the rodent pest you’re dealing with because knowing how they behave and where they spend their time will allow you to place a trap where they are most likely to find it.
Check your traps on a regular basis to avoid having to handle rotting rodent corpses, and it will allow you to clear the trap for another catch—if you’re dealing with a large population. For gophers and groundhogs, checking the traps once every three or four days should be sufficient. For rats, mice, and chipmunks, check your traps once or twice a day. If you’re not catching anything, first try moving the trap to an area where there may be more rodent traffic. Otherwise, try using different bait.
Clean your traps before reusing them. This should be obvious, but I thought I’d mention it. Regular dish soap should be fine. Just make sure you get the blood and guts off the traps to prevent odors and corrosion from hindering the effectiveness of your traps. A little oil or WD-40 dabbed on joints will help ensure cleaner functioning and a clean kill.
Natural Rodent Control
Fencing and other physical obstacles are probably the most humane forms of rodent control that you can employ. Fencing made from 1″ to ½” wire mesh buried roughly two feet below the ground and about 2 feet above the ground will stop just about any pestiferous rodent or garden-feeders, including moles. Hardware cloth might also be fixed to the sides of porches and other areas where chipmunks , squirrels, and groundhogs might find their way under buildings, which are perfect places for rodents to nest.
Plastic tubes that are carefully (and loosely) wrapped around telephone wires and power cables will prevent squirrels and chipmunks from gaining access to rooftops. The trick is to get about 3′ to 4′ of PVC pipe around the cable loose enough that when a squirrel or chipmunk attempts to cross over it, it spins and throws the offending rodent to the ground.
Sanitation and property maintenance will help ensure that food to eat and places for rodents to hide are kept to a minimum. Clearing brush, debris, hedges, and piles of rocks from property will help you keep rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and groundhogs from making your yard into a hideout. While sealing birdfeed containers and pet food supplies in rubber tubs or automatic dispensing machines will help prevent pest rodents from getting a free meal.
Live traps from Havahart are always a good alternative to lethal rodent traps. Further trauma to the trapped animal can usually be avoided by placing a breathable fabric or cotton sheet over the trap while transporting the animal to its new home. Be sure to find a habitat that is suitable as a new home for the rodent and give yourself enough time to allow the animal to leave the trap on its own—sometimes trapped animals need a little time to gain the courage to peek out of the trap door to make sure the coast is clear and make a run for it.